[Stop-traffic] News/US: Suit claims indentured servitude

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/US: Suit claims indentured servitude
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Tue Jan 23 2001 - 10:06:21 EST

Suit claims indentured servitude
N.Y. case accuses U.N. official of underpaying Zambian
By Christine Haughney
The Washington Post, January 4, 2001

NEW YORK -- A United Nations official who wrote and lectured on poverty in
Africa faces a lawsuit from a Zambian man who claims the official held him
in indentured servitude for 17 months.

A lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York accuses Yobert
Shamapande and his wife, Lynah, of paying Mason Hikabanze illegally low
wages of $160 a month to work nearly 70 hours a week to clean Shamapande's
11-room Westchester home and to care for the family's autistic son. When
Hikabanze asked for a raise or permission to work a part-time job,
according to the lawsuit, the Shamapandes told him Immigration and
Naturalization Service officials would deport him.

"Sometimes they would say I was just like part of the family," said
Hikabanze in a telephone interview from a rooming house in the Bronx. "But
when it came to my personal needs, I was on my own."

The Shamapandes, through another son, Shomwa Shamapande, said Hikabanze
filed the lawsuit to remain in the United States. His permission to stay in
the United States could expire because Yobert Shamapande retired at the end
of 2000 as head of the United Nations publication Development Business.

Hikabanze began working for the Shamapandes in South Africa, where
Shamapande was head of the United Nations Information Center. When
Shamapande returned to New York, Hikabanze joined him, working about 13
hours daily cleaning house and caring for the autistic teenage son, he
said. The lawsuit was filed after a string of similar claims were filed in
the Washington and New York metropolitan areas.

Hikabanze's lawsuit has a better chance at success because Shamapande has a
lower diplomatic status than others who have been named in lawsuits, said
Sameer Ashar, Hikabanze's attorney. Shamapande has "immunity for actions
that are only directly related to his employment," Ashar said.

When a maid who worked for a high-ranking diplomat from Bahrain in
indentured servitude filed a federal lawsuit, the diplomat's position
offered him greater protection than Shamapande's would have, said Chaumtoli
Huq of the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

"The lower-level official you are, the less immunity you have for private
acts," said Huq, who has represented others who have filed similar claims
against employers with diplomatic status.

Former co-workers praised Shamapande's work and said they were surprised by
the lawsuit. Shamapande was "a perfect gentleman," said his former boss
Salim Lone, who worked with him in 1995 and 1996 as Shamapande edited the
United Nations handbook.

Shamapande also received strong reviews from his students for the course he
taught on the political economy of poverty and development in southern
Africa at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs
last spring.

"He did a perfectly good job," said Robin Lewis, associate dean for
academic services.

Shamapande has not hired a lawyer. He was unavailable for comment today.
Shomwa Shamapande said his father was hurt and angered by the lawsuit after
he brought Hikabanze here to give him a chance to study.

"He understands the value of education and he wanted to help out when he
could," said Shomwa Shamapande. "This is what he spent his whole life on."

When his family returned from South Africa, they needed Hikabanze only to
care for the autistic son for a few hours each afternoon after school, said
Shomwa Shamapande. But his family offered Hikabanze the opportunity to come
to the United States with them to attend school, and helped him enroll in
GED and computer courses.

"He wanted to take classes this spring at Westchester Community College,"
said the younger Shamapande. "He can only be here as long as my father
stays in the country."

But Hikabanze's attorney said Hikabanze is "trying to do what's right here
and get paid for the work in the past 17 months and wrap it up and go home."
Melanie Orhant
Stop-Traffic Moderator

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